Jon Stewart on Joe Rogan and the Iraq war: Today's "misinformation" is tomorrow's conventional wisdom

Via Mediaite, this dovetails with Bill Maher asking COVID hawks to show more humility towards skeptics, particularly given how often the scientific consensus about the virus has changed in two years. We all remember being told early on to wipe down our groceries and wash our hands thoroughly in the belief that the virus was transmitted on surfaces. It wasn’t. Many of us also assumed that extra restrictions would need to be imposed in schools because kids were destined to be a key vector of transmission, just as they are with the flu. But they weren’t.

And in many liberal jurisdictions, that particular misinformation has yet to be corrected two years later.

We could go on and on, from the lab-leak theory to whether vaccinated people carry the virus to whether cloth masks are sufficient protection against Omicron. Watch three minutes of Stewart hearkening back to the days when the expert consensus held that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program and skeptics of that conclusion weren’t just guilty of misinformation, they were un-American. The proverbial sands do shift.

More humility on all sides of the COVID debate would be a good thing. From COVID hawks, for having overhyped the risk in some ways, and from COVID contrarians, who continue to ignore the human toll of anti-vax propaganda.

My question to Stewart is this: What degree of certainty about a fact is needed before we can safely pronounce a contrary opinion “misinformation”? There’s scarcely a fact inside or outside of science that isn’t disputed by some cohort. Is the jury still out on whether the Earth is round, not flat? That smoking can cause cancer? That HIV causes AIDS?

To this day, Holocaust deniers claim that their evidence of a grossly overstated death toll in the camps hasn’t received a fair hearing. Are those sands still shifting?

More than 200 million people have received the COVID vaccines in this country and many more have received them abroad. The evidence that they drastically reduce the risk of death is voluminous in the collected data. If it’s not misinformation right now to say otherwise, when would it become misinformation? Is it a matter of time, e.g., if five years pass without contrary evidence? Or is it a matter of the voluminous data not quite being voluminous enough? If so, what other evidence should we be looking for?

Also, should we be quicker or slower to pronounce dissenting views as misinformation in matters of life and death? Stewart makes the point that hundreds of thousands of people died in the Iraq war in part because we were too hasty in marginalizing skeptics. But one could as easily argue that hundreds of thousands of people have died in the past two years because we haven’t been hasty enough about marginalizing vaccine skeptics with major media megaphones. I don’t want Rogan canceled or punished in any way, but given the sheer size of his audience I can understand why pro-vaxxers have zeroed in on him as a scapegoat for their frustration that thousands of unvaccinated people continue to die.

It shouldn’t be happening. In a country where the vaccines are free, ubiquitous, and well documented for preventing severe illness, it’s completely insane.

Whether Rogan’s show has convinced anyone to forgo vaccination is unclear but it is clear that he’s not so bothered by the reality of unvaccinated people needlessly dying in droves that he’d decline to expose his audience to someone like Alex Berenson. Here’s how Rogan justified that during his most recent stand-up appearance:

“I talk sh*t for a living — that’s why this is so baffling to me,” he said. “If you’re taking vaccine advice from me, is that really my fault? What dumb sh*t were you about to do when my stupid idea sounded better? ‘You know that dude who made people eat animal dicks on TV? How does he feel about medicine?’ If you want my advice, don’t take my advice.”

That’s a concise demonstration of Rogan’s charm — funny, self-deprecating, willing to put faith in his audience’s good judgment. But remember, the complaint isn’t so much that Rogan himself is giving out “advice” about vaccination on his show. It’s the “experts” like Berenson whom he continues to invite on. Implicitly he’s lending them a patina of legitimacy by interviewing them, telling listeners, “This guy has something to say that’s worth three hours of your time.” That’s what I meant last week when I said that debates about Rogan are really debates over where the Overton window on vaccine skepticism should be.

My pal Patterico is right too. Rogan’s self-deprecating shtick is reminiscent of … Jon Stewart, another guy who frequently delivered monologues on politics and current events and, when challenged by critics, would remind everyone that he’s a comedian. That “clown nose on, clown nose off” routine is a neat way to do serious social commentary while dodging full accountability from opponents.

But no, Rogan shouldn’t be canceled. Wanting someone fired just because they’re on the wrong side in a cultural dispute is obnoxious in the extreme. Right?